- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

GAP, Pa. (AP) — The colorful, hand-painted signs offering puppies for sale at farms in scenic Lancaster County only add to the allure of Amish country. Some visitors cannot help but go home with a fluffy dog.

But animal activists say many of these seemingly innocent farms — nestled among the red barns and green grass in Pennsylvania’s rolling countryside — are actually a front for lucrative, virtually unregulated operations that crank out hundreds of purebreds, sometimes amid miserable conditions.

Consumers who find cute puppies advertised on the Internet or in newspapers rarely set foot in the dark barns where animals are confined for breeding, activists say.

“If people could understand where the dogs came from, they wouldn’t buy them,” said Carol Araneo-Mayer, vice president of Adopt a Pet, which has helped find homes for rescued dogs in Lancaster County.

A Senate subcommittee this week will hear testimony on legislation that would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the power to regulate breeders and dealers who sell directly to consumers. Some breeders — and even some animal-rescue coordinators who sell the dogs they have saved — worry that the bill will place unnecessary regulations on them.

Pennsylvania, which some have called the “Puppy Mill Capital of the East,” is not alone in the problem, according to animal rights groups. The Humane Society of the United States lists Pennsylvania with Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma as the worst violators.

A puppy mill, says the Humane Society, is a breeding facility that produces purebred puppies in large numbers. Potential problems, it contends, are overbreeding and inbreeding, substandard food and shelter, overcrowded cages and inadequate veterinary care.

The Internet has made high-volume operations more profitable because they are exempt from federal regulations yet can reach a national market.

The federal Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966, set standards for the treatment of animals by breeders, exhibitors, transporters and researchers. It exempts “retail pet stores,” and large breeding operations are considered retailers by the USDA if they sell directly to consumers.

Many states — including Pennsylvania — have laws that regulate animal breeding operations. Last year in Pennsylvania, dog wardens seized and impounded 16,890 dogs, including those at breeding operations.

Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, said changes to the Animal Welfare Act are needed to protect not just animals, but also consumers who buy dogs with behavioral and health problems. His bill would give the USDA authority over those who sell more than 25 dogs per year. People who raise up to seven litters per year on their own premises would be exempted.

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